By Scott Prater
Capt. Rodrigo Ocampo, 4th Space Operations Squadron astronautical developmental engineer, will soon depart on a month-long temporary duty assignment to Africa and be immersed in French and the local African culture.
His trip and TDY came about after he was accepted into the Language Enabled Airman Program, an effort initiated in 2010 by Air Force leaders to create cross-cultural competency among Airmen.
“The Air Force works with a lot of allies and militaries of other countries in joint operations and exercises and so it makes sense for us to enhance our communications capability,” Ocampo said. “This is not only language immersion, its cultural immersion, so it covers the etiquette and protocol unique to geographic areas.”
According to a 2012 memorandum signed by Barbara Barger, Air Force Language, Region and Culture Program Office director, the goal of LEAP is to develop a core group of general-purpose Airmen across specialties and career fields who possess the capability to communicate in one or more foreign languages.
“One of the best things about this program is it allows me to learn and improve my French skills, but afterward, I can come back and perform my normal duties for 4 SOPS,” Ocampo said. “I can continue with my career path in the Air Force as opposed to having to transition into a regional language specialist career field.”
Program participants are vetted through a board process and are selected based on their existing foreign language capabilities, motivation to sustain and enhance skills, Air Force Specialty Code and the needs of the Air Force.
Ocampo may be particularly well suited for this type of duty. A native of Colombia, he grew up speaking Spanish. After moving to Florida as a teenager he picked up English quickly and began taking French courses while in high school. While studying engineering at the University of Florida he simultaneously earned his U.S. citizenship and completed ROTC coursework.
But he wasn’t done learning languages just yet. While stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., Ocampo listened to French audio lessons during his hour-long daily commute.
“Really, I was just hoping to maintain the French I learned in high school, but I guess I developed enough of an understanding to perform well on a French language aptitude test,” he said.
He proved proficient in both Spanish and French, but LEAP administrators chose to place him in French immersion due to higher Air Force need.
“As part of the program, I’ve agreed to participate in immersion courses known as Language Intensive Training Events every three or four years for the remainder of my Air Force career,” he said. “Immersion has proven to be the best form of language enhancement, so I consider myself fortunate to be chosen for the program.”
Though the program may seem uncommon, Ocampo is not Schriever’s only LEAP participant. A few more Airmen will be participating in LITE during the next few years, including Lt. Col. Alistair Funge, 4 SOPS operations officer.
He’ll travel to Indonesia during the first quarter of 2014 for a similar LITE in the Indonesian language.
“It will be a four-week language course,” Funge said. “It’s not like you’ll just go there and somehow absorb the language just by walking around. That said, it’s important to note that they’re teaching more than language, the course will cover Indonesian culture as well. And of course it’s important to spell out that this program is designed for Airmen to continue to improve their language skills during the course of their career.”
Since they’ve been accepted into LEAP both Funge and Ocampo have continued to spread the word throughout the 50th Operations Group about how Airmen can apply and possibly be accepted into the program.
“They have something like 300 participants in LEAP now and during the past year they’ve opened the program up to enlisted members,” Funge said. “The officer’s board for new applicants will take place this fall and the enlisted board occurs in the spring. Right now, the officer application window is open through Sept. 5.”
Airmen interested in applying for LEAP can visit the Air Force Culture and Language Center website at https://wwwmil.maxwell.af.mil/afclc/ on a government computer or CAC enabled computer